Creating the Perpetrator

Explosive as they were, the symbolic forces marshaled at the Kosovo celebrations of 1989 were not capable alone of producing genocide. The fuse needed to be lit. Serb nationalist forces, protected by Serb President Slobodan Milosevic, worked carefully to light it. Milosevic and Serbian nationalists had used mob intimidation and media exploitation to overthrow Serbian President Ivan Stambolic and purge the communist party and governments in Serbia's autonomous regions of Vojvodina and Kosovo and in Montenegro. In 1990 Milosevic began using purges to transform the Yugoslav Army into a Serb-nationalist controlled implement of the struggle for a "Greater Serbia."[2] In 1991, he used attacks in Belgrade on demonstrators for freedom of the press and the war in Croatia to harden the soldiers. In May

1992, Milosevic pretended to withdraw the Yugoslav army from Bosnia but in fact simply transferred all the Bosnian Serb soldiers in the federal army and vast amounts of weapons to the Bosnian Serb army, whose expenses Milosevic paid from the Yugoslav federal budget.[3] Milosevic gave militia leaders such as Vojislav Seselj and Arkan access to the media, secret police, military command, and arms depots.[4] These men built private militias and collaborated closely with regular Serb forces to spread terror throughout eastern and northern Bosnia.[5]

Serbs who refused to participate in the persecution of Muslims were killed. In a Serb-army occupied area of Sarajevo, Serb militants killed a Serb officer who objected to atrocities against civilians; they left his body on the street for over a week as an object lesson. During one of the "selections" carried out by Serb militants in Sarajevo, an old Serb named Ljubo objected to being separated out from his Muslim friends and neighbors; they beat him to death on the spot.[6] In Zvornik, Serb militiamen slit the throat of a seventeen-year-old Serb girl who protested the shooting of Muslim civilians. In the Prijedor region, Serb militants put Serbs accused of helping non-Serb neighbors into the camps with those they tried to help. Similar incidents occurred throughout areas controlled by the Bosnian Serb military.[7]

Serb militants tried to provoke revenge attacks by Muslims against Serbs still living in Bosnian-controlled territory. The theory was that such attacks would drive the remaining Serb population out of Bosnian government areas, thus creating two ethnoreligiously pure entities, one Serb, one Muslim. The claim of extreme religious nationalists that Serbs could never live safely with Muslims would be validated.[8] During the "cleansings" of the Bijeljina area in 1994, Muslim survivors of the operation

were driven toward the Bosnian-controlled city of Tuzla, which has a large Serb population. Young men were taken to slave labor camps. Their families were told that if they wanted to see those taken to the camps alive again, they should take the houses of Serbs in Tuzla, expel the Serbs into territory held by the Serb army, and then the other captives would be released.[9] Although one attack in Tuzla against Serbs did occur when the first wave of traumatized refugees from the overrun enclave of Srebrenica came into the city in 1993, the Tuzla authorities, against all odds, have maintained a multireligious city.

Serb army officers used alcohol to break down the normal inhibitions of the young men in their commands. Serb soldiers were kept drunk night after night, weeks at a time; military convoys were accompanied by truckloads of plum brandy (sljivovica ). In Sarajevo, there was an evening sljivovica hour during which Serb soldiers would get drunk and broadcast over loudspeakers, in grisly detail, what they were going to do to the Bosnian civilians when they got hold of them. Survivors of mass killings reported that once soldiers began drinking, the atrocities followed.

Commanders of the killing camps made a practice of opening them to local Serb radicals, gangsters, and grudge-holders, who would come each night to beat, torture, and kill the detainees.[10] This practice had the effect of spreading complicity throughout the neighboring area. Distribution of stolen and abandoned goods also spread complicity. Every town "cleansed" meant the availability of automobiles, appliances, stereo and television equipment.[11] Once a family had in their home something that had belonged to a neighbor, they were less likely to object to the "ethnic cleansing."

Militia leaders worked to instill an ethos of brutality. Arkan, the leader of the Tiger militia, used his headquarters in the city of Erdut as a training ground. Serb recruits were taught that in fighting the enemy, they had no right to spare children, women, or the aged.[12] Serb military commanders showed reporters and their own troops how to slit a throat by having pigs killed as demonstrations.

The final dehumanization of the perpetrator occurred in ritualized fashion, when young soldiers were forced to watch torture, gang rape, and killings and forced to participate. To refuse was to risk death. To participate was to learn to believe that the victims were not truly human anyway.

Dehumanization of the victims was achieved through a variety of methods. Captives would be held for months in extremely cramped quarters without toilets or sanitary facilities. Women spoke of the shame of being forced to wear clothes stained with menstrual blood. Weeks of a starvation diet, lack of water, and lack of hygiene would turn captives into filthy, emaciated shadows of the persons they had once been. Cities the Serb army did not capture were blockaded. Few convoys were allowed in, and some safe areas, such as Srebrenica, Zepa, and Bihac, became abodes of misery, what one refugee worker called UN concentration camps.[13]

Dehumanizing labels were also important in motivating genocide. In Serb-occupied areas, Bosnian Croats were invariably called Ustashe, in reference to the fascist units of World War II. Muslims were called Turks (a term of alienation and abuse when used by Serb and Croat militants), Ustashe, and "balije." The origin of the term "balija" (plural "balije") is obscure. Some

Arkan Tigers

Masks and religious terror: Arkan's Tiger Militia. Ron Haviv, SABA Press Photos, 1990.

Masks and religious terror: Arkan's Tiger Militia. Ron Haviv, SABA Press Photos, 1990.

believe it is related to the South Slavic term for spit or mucus (bala ); others suggest different etymologies. Bosnian Muslim survivors of the "ethnic cleansing" reported that nationalist Serbs would "spit" the term out at them.[14] A popular song in Belgrade was based on the rhyme "Alija" (the first name of Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic) and "balija."

In both the Republika Srpska and Serbia proper, militia leaders became patrons in their community through their control over the real estate and moveable properties of the killed or expelled non-Serbs. As the Serb economy faltered under the strain of war expenditures, corruption, and economic sanctions, the person who could get what was needed—extra food, medicine, gasoline, or a new stereo—was the militia leader. No need to ask where the goods came from.

The use of masks symbolized the methods used by the organizers of the genocide. When the fighting broke out in Croatia in 1991, Serb irregular militiamen wore ski-masks or face paint. Survivors of atrocities reported trying to discern the accent of their masked torturers to determine where they came from. Sometimes a victim would recognize the voice of a neighbor.[15] In many cases the man behind the mask was content to allow his identity to be known through his voice, and in some cases even taunted his victim with the fact that they knew one another.

The mask transformed identities. Before he put it on, the militiaman was part of a multireligious community in which Catholic Croats, Orthodox Serbs, Slavic Muslims, Jews, Gypsies, and others had lived together. These were his friends, his work colleagues, his neighbors, his lovers, his spouse's family. Once he put on the mask, he was a Serb hero; those he was abusing were balije or Turks, race traitors and killers of the Christ-Prince Lazar.

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